Razor Wire Karma

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Chapter 9

“Anything for me?” I asked as Nick thumbed through the box on her cart. He bent over, fingers ruffling through the files. Scalp showing through the crew cut.

“If there was I’d deliver it,” he said and held out a large tan envelope for Booker. Booker took the package from me with his thumb and fingertip on the opposite end, making sure not to touch where Nick touched.

“So what’s with the lockdown?” I asked.

“Someone stabbed their partner last night,” Nick whispered.

“Who was it?” Booker mumbled, opening his mail without looking up.

“Who was it?” I asked Nick, relaying Booker’s message since he was being a pussy. “Do you know?”

“Nope. All I know is they said he carved a Nazi sign into his forehead.”

“Aw, now that’s just cruel.”

“Yeah,” Nick frowned, still looking through the mail. “Messed up.”

“It could have at least been a smiley face.”

Nick didn’t laugh. She was serious about being an ape.

“Not funny, Raph,” she said, kicking loose the wheel lock on her cart. “Stay out of trouble. See ya, Booker.”

Booker grunted.

“Mail call!” Nick said at the next cell down.

“Man, why you got to keep it here longer than necessary?” Booker said, “That freak gives me the chills.”

“But I got you the info you wanted.”

“Oh hey,” Nick said. She had backed up her cart.

“What’s up?” I said, smiling. Booker quickly looked down. Had Nick heard what he said?

“This one’s for you,” she said, “Almost forgot.”

She held out an envelope.

“Me? I never get letters.”

“Gotta deliver the mail. Even for assholes,” she said, winking.

I took the pink envelope and she was gone.

I stared at it, afraid to open it.

I turned it over.

“Raphael Gorey,” was written on the front.

It was for me.

The sender on the return address was, “Shannon Petrone.”

First Letter

I opened the letter. It was a couple sheets of folded pink paper with painted songbirds climbing up the side. A faint sweet smell floated out of the envelope. The writing was in purple pen and all flowery and shit. Reading is tough enough. Writing like that just makes it harder.

Plus, the whole thing made me nervous. Why would Shannon write me? What more could she say?

“Hey. Booker?”

“Rule one, Raph.”

“This is important. I want your help reading this.”

“What? You can read.”

“Yeah, but this is the curly stuff.”

“You mean cursive?”

“Yeah.”

“Later.”

“Come on, Booker. Now.”

“You can read cursive.”

“Yeah but it’s hard. I want to get it right.”

I sounded like the biggest little bitch in the world. He ignored me as he looked over a long yellow sheet covered with hand-written numbers. He was reading them through the bottom of his glasses as he held the sheet in the air, up to his lamp.

“Booker,” I said.

He didn’t answer.

I sniffed the letter.

I got up and waved my hand between Booker’s face and the paper he was holding.

“What the fuck?” he squawked, slamming his hands down.

“Help me read this.”

“You can wait.”

“This is important.”

“My work is more important.”

“Come on, we’re stuck inside all day.”

“Who’s writing you in cursive? And what’s that smell?”

“From a woman named Shannon.”

“Is this that lady you saw the other day? The one that visited?”

“How do you know that?”

“You know, people talk.”

“Talk about me?”

“About everyone and everything. You’d know that if you ever spoke to anyone.”

“Sounds boring.”

“Something unusual happens, you show up on the radar. They woke us both up for your visitor. So, word got around.”

“You could have asked me.”

“Well I didn’t want you to think I was in your business.”

“But you were.”

“You want me to read it or not?”

I handed him the letter.

“I’ll read it once and then I got to get this work done. Can’t have you fretting about your new girlfriend.”

He opened the letter before him and flicked it with his finger. That made me flinch. I wasn’t sure why. It seemed, I don’t know, disrespectful or something. He started reading.

“Dear Raphael. You don’t mind if I call you that, do you? It’s such a beautiful name, you shouldn’t shorten it to Raph. There is so much more I wanted to say the other day when I visited, but I didn’t have the time. If you don’t mind, I’d like to stay in touch and get to know you. I don’t really have anyone anymore, and I think it would be fun. Don’t worry about writing back. If you don’t want to or can’t, then you don’t have to. I understand. It’s just nice to have someone listen. If you do want to write though, I’d love it. Your friend, Shannon.”

I stared at the floor.

“Ha!” Booker said. “She likes you.”

“She’s lonely. That’s all.”

“Hey, nothing wrong with having a girl,” he said, handing back the letter. “Besides you’re blushing.”

Booker laughed, shaking his head as he turned back to his desk, lifting the yellow sheet, sliding his thumb down the numbers.

“Lid for every pot,” he said to himself.

I kept turning the envelope over, examining it and the paper, the stamp. I’d never gotten a letter before. Never. Not even once. What did people do with letters once they read them? Did they keep them or throw them out? I don’t remember going over this in Basic Socialization.

“Stupid letter,” I said loud enough for Booker to hear. He didn’t react. I didn’t want him to think I cared. I crawled into bed and pulled the newspaper up. Booker had his back to me, but if he turned around, all he would see was the paper, but behind it, I held the pink sheet against the newsprint and ran my finger over the curvy letters.

It was easier to read now that I knew what it said. I traced the first two words with my finger. “Dear Raphael.” Maybe I could learn this weird curvy writing a little better. Not that she was ever going to write me again. She said she would, but people are full of crap.

When Booker was ready for me to read the scores, I used the top of the envelope as a straight edge to track where I was. It was helpful and I got to look at the letter more. He never even knew.

When the morning bell rang, I woke up holding the letter against my chest.

I folded the paper carefully and stuffed it under my pillow before Booker could see. I could open it again tonight like it was brand new.

A Small Group

For some dumb reason, I was back at the bleachers for Cutler’s stupid little white guys club.

Why?

I couldn’t tell you. I think this is when a normal person would say, “Against my better judgment.”

I guess because I was bored. But then, Cutler’s meeting was damn boring, too. But it was a new kind of boring.

Was it because Cutler’s fidgeting was the only thing that kept me awake in Chief’s Anger Management class and I felt like I owed him something?

Why was I even thinking about why?

I do what I do.

Why was I doing all this thinking?

Cutler seemed to have life figured out. His purpose was clear: hating everyone who wasn’t white and promoting the Aryan race. Of which I guess I was a member. Why not just say white? What the hell was an Aryan? Was there a country somewhere called Arya?

Cutler stood before us, saving me from my annoying thoughts.

“You may notice someone missing,” Cutler said after clipboard jockey Andy had checked us in. The little dude reminded me of a white (or Aryan?) version of Booker, his paperwork meant a lot to him.

It might be funny to tell him sometime that he reminds me of my brownie life-partner.

“One of our own did a good thing yesterday,” Cutler said. “It’s what caused the lockout.”

“Some dude got iced,” someone said.

“Better than that,” Cutler went on. “One of our Aryan brothers killed his cellmate in the night. Strangled that nigger in his sleep.”

“I heard he carved a Nazi sign in the dead punk’s forehead,” someone behind me said.

“God damn right,” Cutler said. “I say send the body back to Africa and bury it there, or better yet, dump it in the ocean and save the cost of the fuel.”

A few guys laughed at that. I smiled just to fit in. I wonder if Chief would have approved. She did say when I didn’t know what to do and I wasn’t harming anyone, sometimes it was good to act like those around me.

“Brother Wilhelm was the one who did it,” Cutler said. “He was one of us. Any of you remember him?”

Everyone looked around. I didn’t remember him. I might if I saw him, but I couldn’t call his face up in my mind. Everyone else had the same problem.

“Short guy?” someone asked.

Cutler’s face turned red.

“I’m disappointed. We should know our brothers.”

He punched his fist into his palm.

“So they took him away, but did he give in? Hell no. He stuffed a piece of his shirt down his own throat. Death before dishonor. Did any of you know that?”

We were all quiet. I wonder if the other dudes were thinking what I was thinking. First, you don’t fuck with your life partner no matter who he is. Because the next guy you bunk with is going to kill you first chance he gets to keep himself safe. Only a nutcase kills their suitemate.

“If even half of you had a piece of his courage,” Cutler said staring at the ground, shaking his head. “Man we would turn this place over.”

He sat there staring at the ground for a while.

“So to start a brotherhood, we need a name. I say we call ourselves the Steel Knights. Any objections?”

I thought about suggesting The Fairy Pansies.

Speaking of names, for as much as Cutler was giving us shit for not knowing this cat who killed his life partner, he still hadn’t told us the dude’s name. Oh well.

“Now,” Cutler said, “Our fallen brother has sent a message, so let’s introduce ourselves to this place. We’re going to march around and show the nachos, the brownies, the kidbangers, the apes, all these scumbags, that we own his place. Not them. There may be more of them than us, but we’re smarter and stronger. We don’t have to take their shit. Follow me!”

He held his hands out, palms to the sky, raising his arms up and down. “Get up, people! Up!”

“Come on, get up!” Andy said, his voice squeaking.

Soon we were all standing.

“Are you pissed off?” Cutler yelled.

“Yeah!” Some of the guys yelled back.

“You sick of being in here with this scum?”

“Yeah!”

Some of the guys were into it with bible humper excitement.

Some drifted to the back, and others stepped aside, scared. I stayed in the middle, half-smiling at the stupidity of it all.

“White power reigns today!” Cutler said. “Come on, Steel Knights! We march. Left. Right. Left. Right. Andy, keep the count going.”

“Left. Left. Left right left.”

Cutler marched in place as he and Andy took up the cadence together. Andy kept chanting, then Cutler led the way.

“Now anyone who would honor the Aryan race, follow me!”

Cutler raised his arm in a Hitler salute and marched off, Andy Clipboard behind him. Four guys followed close behind.

The rest of us, at least a dozen guys, stood around looking at each other. I was thinking how hilarious it would be to just let the small group march off alone, talking white power smack and walking into a horde of nachos and brownies.

Eventually we all followed, chanting left-right-left. I kept myself in the middle of the crowd, ignoring the march count. That sounded like punishment for dumb kids.

The looks on the faces around us were hilarious. A group of nachos parted before us as Cutler and our tiny parade stomped through them, messing up their card game. The apes were watching us the whole time.

When a nacho was close, Cutler would bellow, “Speak English! This is our country!” When a brownie was close, he would yell, “White power! White race!”

“White rice,” more like it. “Rice cracker!” the brownies yelled back. The nachos yelled back in Spanish. I couldn’t understand them, but by the looks on their faces, they weren’t wishing us a successful race war.

Everyone was watching us, the nachos, the brownies, the apes and the few whites who hadn’t joined us, the kidbangers and the queens. They all stepped aside. The more they did that, the more my Aryan brothers got into it.

I was impressed when Cutler led the group right to the edge of Big X territory. The bodyguards moved to block Cutler and our parade stopped. Cutler stood there face-to-face with both of those giant black goons, each as big as him. He just kept sticking his hand between them with his Hitler salute.

Big X’s guards didn’t move. Their faces were stone, too. The same grim face behind shades.

Above us on the wall, the apes clustered together, aiming down their rifles.

“White! Might! Right!” Cutler yelled, his hand stabbing between the bodyguard heads.

One slip and his fingers would stab into their faces and this whole place would explode. I started stepping backwards. I bumped into my so-called brothers, who seemed okay with putting my life in danger.

This had all been stupid fun, but now it could get very real.

Behind the guards, Big X and Booker sat at their picnic table, watching. Booker closed his notebook and tucked it under his arm, ready to run with what mattered most.

I held my breath. If this went down I was going to turn and go through whoever I had to. Get my back against the razor wire fence and take it from there.

The whole pigpen waited.

Cutler finally turned, the rest of us following along. I dropped into line at a safe distance.

When we got back to the bleachers, the whole group erupted in cheers and high-fives.

“You see, brothers?” Cutler said. “You see? Did you see their faces? The terror in their eyes? Hell, the nachos don’t speak English, but god damn, they got the message, am I right?”

More cheering.

“We might be a tiny group but that’s all we need. Each Steel Knight is worth five of their guys. Someone once said, ‘Never doubt that a small group of people can change the world. It’s the only thing that ever does.’ And I say, hell yeah to that! That’s how it all went down in Germany. Hitler and his group were just a tiny group like us. And they set an idea in motion that lives to this day. We can rule, brothers. It’s really just up to us.”

He led us over to the weights.

“Next, we work out. Everyone gets in shape. Secretary! Call off names.”

Then one by one, we watched each other lift.

The other guys were fired up. They took up the cheerleading. They were all yelling “White power! Steel Knights!” and different combinations of those few words. The apes were pacing on the walkways above. There seemed to be more of them.

I didn’t buy into any of this white power shit, but it did feel good to work out.

“Good man, good man,” the guys around me said as I set the weights down.

When I stood up off the bench, the guys cheered and slapped me on the back.

I was catching my breath when someone slapped me on the butt.

I spun around.

“What the hell?”

No one met my gaze, they were all watching the next guy.

“Good job,” they said. “Well done, brother. White power.”

“Yeah, sure,” I said. “White power my ass.”

Solo with Chief

Just me and Chief for our weekly morning meeting.

She shuffled her papers, took a sip of her coffee from the mug with the stained pink rim. She clicked her pen and made some marks on her paper.

Not once did Chief look up.

She was clearly trying to annoy me. It was working, but no way was I going to let her know that, so I whistled aimlessly.

She took another sip. She looked up and smiled. I wasn’t skilled in the social graces, but the smile looked fake as Nick’s penis.

“You seem to be making friends with Duke,” she said.

“Cutler? He’s entertaining.”

“Why? Because he hates anger management class more than you?”

“We see eye to eye in some ways.”

“Well that’s good.”

“You’re okay that I’m friends with a Nazi?”

She shrugged. “It’s fine with me if you want to join his group. The Steel Knights, right?”

Damn. I was hoping all this would piss her off. “You don’t mind? How do you know about his social club?”

“You mean his gang? He told me. And no. It doesn’t bother me.”

“Why not? Do you like Nazis?”

“Are you trying to upset me?”

I hated when she could read my mind. How did she do that?

“A gang can be like a family. It might help your self-esteem,” she said. “I don’t approve of the viewpoints, but your well-being isn’t about me or what I want. If you want to think your race is the best, go ahead.”

“Our race,” I said. “You’re white, too.”

“I don’t think of myself that way, Raph.”

“So you think Cutler’s an asshole?”

“I didn’t say that. Don’t you remember anything from your class? People can disagree but still get along.”

“Just so you know, I don’t care for all his white power shit, either. Why hate only certain people when you can hate everybody?”

Chief clicked her pen and turned back to her papers.

Damn. She wasn’t reacting to anything I said.

“And you’re welcome to have your opinion about my class,” she said. “But the sooner you demonstrate you’re learning, the sooner you don’t have to go.”

“But you think he’s a dick, right?”

She smiled and shook her head. I had to come up with some new tricks. Chief was onto all my standard moves, and with her mind-reading, I was stuck.

“I wouldn’t ever say that. It’s not my place to like or dislike, just provide treatment. I also don’t tell you what’s a correct opinion, just what’s appropriate behavior. If all you and his gang are doing is talking, then that’s fine. If they’re planning something violent, then I would expect you to do the right thing.”

“Which is what?”

“You tell me. I know you know. We’ve gone over it many times. You ever wonder why you try so hard to annoy me?”

Busted.

“Because it’s fun. And I’m bored.”

“Well, that’s why I want you to pursue a hobby. Maybe painting. Or dance. Or poetry. Or-”

“Oh, hell no.”

She frowned. Score! She hated interruptions. They were against the rules of normal people behavior.

She recovered fast.

“Well think of something. Something that lets you express yourself. Pour some of that anger and defiance into creative energy. You might enjoy it. But let’s move on. What’s on your mind lately? Have you thought any more about what you did to Dillett?”

“Not really. I did what I did and what’s done is done.”

“No regrets? You haven’t given any thoughts to Dillett’s family?”

I tried not to look surprised.

“I didn’t know he had a family. Now that I do, I can say for sure I do not care.”

I smiled. No reaction from Chief.

“I didn’t say he did or didn’t, but that’s what I want you to think about. Everyone has a mother and father. Don’t you think they might be upset if they heard you killed their son? What if he had his own kids? A son? A daughter?”

“Well uh,” I said. I saw the corner of Chief’s lips curl up just a little.

“See? You hadn’t thought of that,” she said. “What would you say if they were here right now, crying? How would you answer them if they asked you, ‘Why did you kill my son?’”

“I’d say because he threw hot food in my face.”

“But you knocked him down. Did you have to kick him to death?”

“Yeah.”

“Raph. The correct answer is ‘No, and I’m sorry I did.’ Can you say that?”

“I don’t do sorry.”

“Well you need to start. Hasn’t anyone ever done anything to you that was cruel and you wished they came back to you and said they were sorry?”

“Sure.”

“See?”

“Because then I’d get another chance to kick their ass.” I smiled.

She rolled her eyes then turned back to her papers.

Don’t mess with me, Chief.

“I want to talk about the Steel Knights,” I said.

“Oh you’d like to talk. That’s good, Raph. What about them?”

“Do they deserve anything? Any punishment?”

“They’re in jail, aren’t they?”

“Well so am I. So what do they deserve that’s different?”

“You’re stuck on this karma thing, aren’t you?”

There she goes reading my mind again.

“You want me to think about things, right?” I said. “About consequences. That’s what karma is, right? I’m just thinking. Doing what you said.”

“As long as you’re only thinking and not planning.”

“So what do you think? Is it wrong for Cutler’s Nazi gang to talk all this hate?”

“It’s just talking.”

“So you wouldn’t mind if I called you a total bitch cunt rag?”

She stared at me for just a second. I could see her eyes squint a little.

“Words have power to harm, Raphael,” she said. “I know you’re aware of that. But you can’t get in as much trouble for calling someone names. You will get in serious trouble for hurting someone. So you’re still going to make people dislike you if you use words like that, but as long as you don’t hit them, then that’s progress.”

“Hm. Okay. So words are karma-free?”

“Nothing is karma free. Everything has consequences. Words aren’t nearly as bad as actions. If you learn that, we’re getting somewhere.”

She looked at her watch. “Speaking of. We’re done. Stay out of trouble Raph.”

She pushed back from the table and turned away before I could say more.

The apes closed in, dragging my chains.

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